Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Design Ethics for Beaders: Part One

Favorite Bead and Button Projects

We may not always realize it, but ethics are an important part of beading and jewelry design; and for every beader there comes a time to ask questions that don’t always have clear answers. These quandaries get even more complicated for those designers who use the internet to share their work, or to find inspiration. It’s not always easy to know where lines are drawn, and there are often shades of gray.

Whether you’re a brand new beader, or a seasoned designer, a little brush up on the do’s and don’ts of beading is never a bad idea. Today I’m going to cover some of the most common questions asked by beaders regarding published tutorials, and hopefully give some clear explanations for each. I can’t claim to be a definite expert in this sometimes treacherous area, and every country or region has different laws, and customs that will effect the unwritten rules. When in doubt, always do a little research, and let your conscience be your guide!

Part One: Magazines and Beading Books

Is it okay to make designs from magazine tutorials and beading books?

Absolutely! Each designer has their own motivation for sharing a design and tutorial in a publication, but the general purpose behind these beading how-to’s is to share new ideas and techniques, and encourage beaders to try new materials. They are there to help you learn, experiment, and develop your skills. They also help to sell more beads, which keeps the bead stores open and supplying us with our materials.

What can I do with designs I make from published projects?

Wear them, give them to friends, share a picture on your blog (with credit), or all of the above. Remember that the piece you make is yours, but the design is not. Unless you have permission from the designer, you can’t sell what you’ve made, donate it to a charity auction, enter it in a contest, or put its picture in your shop banner.

Many designers are open to the idea of beaders selling recreations of their designs, but you must get in touch with them and ask. Most magazines and books will include contact information for each designer, or you can contact the publisher for forwarding.

Peyote Rings Inspired by Julia Gerlach

What if my project is different from the original?

This is where things get a little muddy. Even the most elaborate designs, when broken down, are made up of basic techniques and common materials. So it would seem that simply changing the bead colors or shapes, or adding an extra row of stitches would make a unique piece. In 99.9% of cases, a simple switch does not make a design unique from the tutorial. If you’re in doubt, it’s probably not different enough.

As disappointing as this can be, especially after you’ve put so much effort into making something, keep in mind that the tutorial you are using is intended to help you learn and experiment. The knowledge and experience you have gained by making the piece is more valuable than the selling price. You can take these ideas and make them your own, and the more experience you have, the easier it will be to tell the difference between inspiration and imitation.

But don’t the designers get paid for their tutorials?

Some magazines do pay a small fee to print original projects, but not always. When they do, they also have the designer sign a contract, which prohibits them from selling the tutorial or teaching it to others for a certain length of time. It’s almost impossible to get rich or even make a living selling tutorials to magazines and publishers.

As a community, beaders are very generous, and we’re lucky to have so many designers and teachers to guide and inspire us. While we are fortunate to have many free and inexpensive resources to draw from, our mentors deserve to be compensated for their time and experience, and to feel that their designs are in good hands.

What if I can figure out how to make a design without a tutorial?

Whether the artist has given instructions for a project or not, the design still belongs to them, and the same rules apply. When in doubt, consider how you would react if someone dissected one of your designs, and copied it for profit. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but if it feels like stealing, it probably is.

Spotlight on New Dimensions by Margot Potter

What if I give credit to the designer?

We should always give credit where it is due, and when sharing a picture of your creation, or showing it off to your beading circle, dropping the designer’s and/or publication’s name is the way to go. The same goes for inspiration, if something you learned from a tutorial helped you to create a unique design of your own. However, giving the designer’s name doesn’t make it okay to sell copies of their work without permission.

How do you feel about beading ethics? I would love to hear your feedback on these topics, and your questions about these and other design dilemmas. Next time we’ll discuss online tutorials and the difference between technique and design.

Further reading:

Bead and Button Magazine Submission Guidelines
How to Write and Publish a Craft Book by Margot Potter
Ethics in Beadland by Mary J. Tafoya

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  1. Unless you have permission from the designer, you can’t sell what you’ve made, donate it to a charity auction, enter it in a contest, or put its picture in your shop banner.

    I would love to see a legal citation for this claim, because ever piece of case law and copyright office documentation I've ever read says it's flat out untrue, at least in the U.S. Copyright the pattern explicitly does not give you control of things made from the pattern. It only gives you control over reprinting the pattern itself.

  2. Mortira:
    It is very important and useful,what You've written here,Most often the boundaries between the 'inspiration' and 'imitation' are very vague and if someone changes the colors and even shapes of beads,using someone else's design-the design still belongs to the primary owner.When inspired-the main idea seems to belong to everyone-i.e.'flower',but there can be the variety of flowers,colors,beads used,or techniques of stitching and here-we can call it 'inspiration'.But what,if two authors accidentally come up to the same idea at the same time,or slightly later?It had happened many times in my life to have think up something,I mean not concerned to beading ,I made it and then occured,that I was not the first one:-)Serious disappointment,but can be even troublesome if we take the 'copyrights' into account.
    I bet,there are lots more questions concerning the topic and will be perplexed for many years to come.In my work I am trying to be the good,thorough observer,learn the techniques,but not using the tutorials and given examples,but I wouldn't bet for it,if my beadweaved items,or the similar ones, weren't made earlier by someone else,somewhere in the world.As concerning the techniques:after all they also were discovered by people in the past.Whatever we do is based on them,which raises the consciousness of using them commonly'without asking':-) Hard topic,but very useful and teaching.
    I have read it thoroughly and I am waiting for the next part.
    Thank You!
    Warm Greetings-Halinka-

  3. As a relatively new beader, I found that one of the things that worries me, is if I make something that is similar to someone elses work, but I am not aware of it.

    For example, I recently made a peyote stitched bow. Its a fairly simple design that came out of my head. But being simple, it's most likely been done before.

    Also, I'm currently making a herringbone bracelet, and after playing around and coming up with a design, I googled images. There were tonnes of similar bracelets. So what do I do now?

    I think designers need to have a bit of an open mind about these issues, because there are only so many ways beads can be woven together, especially for a beginner.

    There was a time when some designed the first daisy chain, or bitty bead, but no one would call 'thief' if they were to show up in an Etsy store.

  4. The question of 'who did it first' is definitely one of the trickier factors, but it doesn't occur as often with more complex designs. In the next segment, we'll talk a bit more about what it means to turn a stitch into a design that you 'own'.

    Do keep in mind, we're talking about ethics, NOT copyright law. Copying and profiting from another person's creation isn't always illegal, but it is almost never right.

    1. Good morning,
      Are there any beading stitches that are "public domain" for example; Herringbone, Brick, Peyote stiches?

    2. By themselves, all of the basic techniques - peyote, brick, herringbone, daisy chain, square, netting, etc - are public domain, as are some techniques developed by individual designers, like right angle weave and Cellini spiral. You can use and adapt these however you like, including selling designs or creating tutorials.

      When a stitch or combination of stitches is used in a very specific way, with particular materials, and if that design is completely unique, then it belongs to the person who created it. Even if the creator shares instructions for the design, it is not appropriate to make copies of it for sale, unless the designer gives permission to do so. However, making pieces for yourself, as inspiration or practice, is acceptable if not encouraged.

    3. Back when I made clothes for people, nobody expected me to design a dress from scratch. They and the makers of the patterns expected me to buy a pattern and custom make the dress from there. The same holds true for my jewelry in many cases. Nobody expects that every piece of woven jewelry is completely my own design. I start with a pattern, I, or a customer, choose the colors and types of beads to use, and after measuring, I custom make a piece of jewelry for them. Just as the clothing patterns are made so anyone can make the item and do with it as they wish, the jewelry patterns are there for us to make the jewelry and do with it as we wish. We are not claiming to be the designer, and there is no ethical dilemma here. The big name clothing designers get exclusivity on a pattern if they do not share it with the general public. If I intend to make money selling my jewelry designs, then I make that choice to not sell the pattern.

    4. I think it's important to note that sewing patterns like Vogue and Butterick are developed by paid designers who make their living doing so. When you open a beading magazine, or even a book, you are seeing projects created by individual artists, usually in their homes, for a small one-time fee (or sometimes just a contributor's copy).

      Making and selling an exact copy of a beading design doesn't hurt the publisher of the project, but it can hurt the artist.

  5. "Copying and profiting from another person's creation isn't always illegal, but it is almost never right."
    Good point, and very well said

  6. I'm new to beading. Is it that you cannot sell something even if that person put the design in a book. Doesn't that mean that they know people will do the design and may sell them?

  7. Imakebelieve-You are right:
    You can make the design from the book,as it is publicly available.Having made it,You can give it as a present i.e.to Your neighbor:-),but You cannot put it into Etsy,or even Your own webshop to sell and gain profits.This is not only the matter of ethics.

  8. Most teachers, authors and designers are aware of the risks involved in publishing their work and ideas. They take it on anyway, and because of their generosity, we have so many resources for learning and developing our skills.

  9. Here is an interesting site on Copyright law and patterns/tutorials...


  10. Thank you, salla. That is a very informative, albeit angry article. Although it addresses sewing patterns, the information could apply to most DIY books, magazines and patterns.

    I won't go into a comparison of commercial sewing patterns and beading tutorials by individual artists, but in the context of ethics, there are some differences. The question for any crafter is: is it better to feel justified in copying, or to make something that is unique and original?

  11. Thank you for opening this conversation, it's a good one and a slippery one indeed.


  12. Thanks for all the responses and advice! I'll definitely look into it and keep this in mind if I do start selling my stuff.

  13. I have a question... what about what is trending? For instance the abstract necklaces with a flower on the left, 3 dangling strands in the middle that run into one strand up the neck. What if that design inspires me to try it out in multiple colors, fabrics, patterns, with beaded links, beaded strands, chain, ribbon etc. If the basic design has already been done does that mean it's wrong for me to sell my own interpreted version on Etsy or elsewhere?

  14. The trick is knowing the difference between style and design. Is there only one way to make this necklace? What makes it significant, and can those concepts be used in a different, original way? Asymmetry is a common style, and there are many ways to incorporate a flower focal, or multiple bead strands, into a piece.

    Being inspired by a certain aesthetic is one of the things that keeps an artist moving forward, and is also one way to define trends. Designers can share the same style and aesthetic without directly copying one another.

  15. Thank you for this posting! I recently ran across an issue such as this and I was stunned and horrified by the backlash! My mistake was not posting where the inspiration came from along with the picture I posted of a piece I made with a new style of bead. I had not stated in the post that I had come up with the idea, nor did I say I was selling it or a tutorial for it. I was told by the very gracious designer (whom I had a conversation with later) that I should have sat down with my beads and come up with my own idea for these particular shaped beads and that the reason I received such a strong response from her 'supporters' is that without designers such as herself, they would have nothing to bead! So why can't they they sit down with their beads and do the same as I did....figure out something on their own?!
    Being a relatively new designer myself, I think very much along the same lines as TheCheekyKea about only so many ways certain beads can be woven together, especially as a newbie!
    What I found to be very interesting is that in the world of Fashion design, there are no copyright laws, according to one of the Ted Talks that I ran across recently. It is because fashion is considered to be utilitarian. They also said that fashion designers 'borrow' from each other all of the time and build on each others design and there is always growth in that industry. I really can't understand why it's not the same here. Here is the link to that Ted Talk:
    I think if the world wants growth in jewelery, some of these people need to lighten up! I don't understand why some of these people that sell tutorials will state right on their Etsy page or where ever that the person buying their tutorial cannot make that item to sell. It would make more sense to me if they stated you could not sell their tutorial because that is what clearly belongs to them!
    I've been so confused about this whole issue....I'm so grateful that this post clears things up a bit....when I've gone searching for answers in the past few weeks, all I get is legal jargon that doesn't answer my questions at all.

  16. Many bead artists, even renowned and well published ones, will probably agree that it is not fair to compare beading and handmade jewelry to the fashion industry. 'Borrowing' from a designer like Jean Paul Gaultier is a different matter than infringing on the intellectual copyright of a single mom, part time crafter, or magazine editor. But again, we're discussing these matters in terms of ethics, not copyright.

    It's not about what we can't do, but what we shouldn't do.

  17. Yes, you are right about what we shouldn't do and I certainly don't condone stealing in any way but when things like this happen accidentally and without any malice, do we really need to be judged so harshly when we make a mistake?
    I will also agree that I have heard many stories about people very deliberately copying someone else's work and passing it off as their very own design and that is very blatantly wrong.
    I guess comparing Fashion design was off target but when I included that, I was trying to get an answer to the question of the use of ideas so.....I guess my question boils down to this....how do we find the line between a technique and a design and who is the one drawing this line, especially when it comes to a very specific type or shape of bead?

  18. "Borrowing' from a designer like Jean Paul Gaultier is a different matter than infringing on the intellectual copyright of a single mom, part time crafter, or magazine editor."

    ~Mortira....That sounds a lot like people thinking that stealing merchandise from WalMart is a different matter than stealing from a mom and pop store. Stealing merchandise is the same either way. If you are to take a stand on the issue, you had better go at it from the same standpoint no matter who you are talking about. I know what you meant by it, but it put an uneasy feeling in my stomach...

  19. You make a great point! To clarify, there is a big difference between the act of a solo beader copying (for profit) from another beader, and perhaps a company like Wal-Mart making cheap variations of a $2000 designer dress. This is about ethics, not law - the idea is to be better than Wal-Mart.

    Is it okay for beaders on Etsy to make wrap bracelets, even though Chan Luu earmarked the style? Perhaps not. But how unique is that style/technique compared to the Peter Pan collar, the peyote cuff, or a stamped state pendant? These are questions that each beader should ponder when taking inspiration or instruction from others.

  20. I make up designs that are just a little different from another beader however I give the inspired by credit to that designer and their sites...only fair

  21. I am sorry, but you only "own" the actual tutorial or written instructions, not the technique; therefore when I am "inspired" to create a piece from your design, I don't care who's design, I created that piece. I bought the materials, I put it together, it is my sweat and effort, I should be able to sell it. I do give credit to other designers that give me inspiration, but I never "copy" any design to the letter anyway. I use several designs, techniques, and colorways to create something unique. Giving credit is fair, but I don't feel anyone can tell me I can't sell something I have made from purchasing their instructions/tutorial, unless, I use their instructions to the letter with the exact same beads and the exact same technique, and even then I question that is correct, ethically. Its like saying I "owe" Home Depot credit because I used their tutorial on how to paint my house as a guide that I later sell. Or I can't sell a poem I wrote because I took a class in college on creative writing. I may have learned a technique, but it is my own creativity that put that house, poem, or piece of jewelry together. True artists like to be copied, because ultimately it is through imitation they learned their own techniques, perspectives, use of color, etc. And the analogy of the fashion industry is perfect in this debate because ultimately, we ARE part of the fashion trade. I never pass off anything that is not of my own design, unless it is my own design. I tell everyone where I get my inspiration and give due credit. I think it is only fair. But don't ask me for a piece of my meager profit because you happen to use some beads in a pleasing manner that inspired me to create something myself, because, frankly, I don't make enough off of any of my jewelry to really call it a profit. We are all trying to inspire the next generation of beader/craftsman/writer/furniture designer/poet. We want to support and honor those who have paved the way for us in the past, to move the industry forward. So please, lets stop looking at this as being personal and call it ethics. Lets support each other and if you don't want to be emulated, don't publish, on the internet, in magazines, or teach tutorials. Keep it all to yourself and you will never have to worry about being copied. As far as I am concerned, if you see something I have created and you want to copy it, go for it. I bless your efforts to create and wish you luck. If I can help you become a better beader, then feel free to contact me about how I did something and I will gladly do what I can to inspire you to take what I have done and improve, develop, and grow from where I stood to new heights. I would love the opportunity to teach, publish my designs, and inspire. That just isn't my path, yet. Maybe some day. I know I don't hold the popular opinion, but sometimes we all take ourselves too seriously and I just wanted my opportunity to express mine. Thank you for the forum and happy beading.

    1. Hi Susan! Thanks for weighing in.

      It’s sadly true that no one is truly obligated to follow these guidelines - except perhaps employees of beading magazines, or anyone employed in bead culture that must be publicly accountable. Selling exact copies (using a different color way or switching from crystals to pearls is still a copy) isn’t illegal, maybe it isn’t even ‘wrong‘, but it is distasteful.

      I always find it sad when I see replicas of pieces from books and magazines being sold online. Even when credit is given, I’ve never seen an artist indicate that they have permission to sell copies of the design. It’s not an ideal way to ‘be supportive’.

      In my personal opinion, if one’s skills are still at a point where it is necessary to make designs from published projects, then one is not ready for selling. And if a beader loves a design from a tutorial enough to sit down and make it, hopefully they respect the fellow designer enough to keep it out of their inventory.

  22. Susan MacWilliams...Yes, I completely agree with you.

    Mortira vanPelt, you aren't wrong, but as Surrayah said "I guess my question boils down to this....how do we find the line between a technique and a design and who is the one drawing this line, especially when it comes to a very specific type or shape of bead?"
    That is such a valid point.

    Also, about the comment "Is it okay for beaders on Etsy to make wrap bracelets, even though Chan Luu earmarked the style? Perhaps not."

    I have no idea who Chan Luu is, but people have been making wrap bracelets of all kinds at least since the 70's when I was young. This isn't anything new or original.

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Leslee! It's true that there is a lot of gray area when we are trying to locate the original source of a technique or design. This is why so much of beadwork 'copying' or 'inspiration' falls into the realm of ethics and not the rules intellectual copyright. If you aren't making a profit from your work, then what you make is entirely up to you. For beaders who sell, there is no real benefit to copying another artist's design exactly - it's better for everyone to be unique.


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